Forbes begins work trying to turn around Wake Forest program

Steve Forbes inherited a big challenge at Wake Forest.

He left East Tennessee State after a 30-win season that included a sweep of the Southern Conference regular-season and tournament titles shortly before the coronavirus pandemic canceled the NCAA Tournament. He arrived in Winston-Salem in the only coaching change amid the pandemic in the Power Five conferences, then started work with players scattered around the country and in-person recruiting on hold.

It’s hardly the way any coach would want to start the work to turn around a program with two winning seasons and one NCAA Tournament bid since 2010, yet the 55-year-old Forbes is undeterred.

“It’s a very different time, nothing that we’ve ever experienced in our life,” he said. “Maybe you could go back and say I’m the only fool that took a job during the pandemic. … But I took a great job, and I was very lucky to get it.”

Forbes replaced Danny Manning, who was fired after six seasons in April. Manning led the Demon Deacons to the 2017 NCAA Tournament but went 35-58 in the three years that followed to extend the program’s slide that began in 2010.

The struggles are expected to continue this year, with the Demon Deacons picked to finish last in the 15-team Atlantic Coast Conference race.

Forbes’s first task was keeping the current players who mulled a transfer with the coaching change. The Demon Deacons lost senior top scorer Brandon Childress from last year’s 13-18 team, along with big man Olivier Sarr (transferred to Kentucky), guard Chaundee Brown (transferred to Michigan) and guard Andrien White (senior).

Junior forward Isaiah Mucius is the top returning scorer at 7.3 points. But the Demon Deacons brought in five transfers, including graduates Ian DuBose from Houston Baptist, Jonah Antonio from UNLV and Jalen Johnson from Tennessee.

“It’s exciting because everyone here is coming from different places,” sophomore forward Ismael Massoud said. “But we all are trying to come together for one goal, which is to win and get better every day as a team.”

Some other things to know about Wake Forest for the 2020-21 season:

SCORING PUNCH

The hope is DuBose can help offset some scoring losses. The 6-foot-4 guard was the Southland Conference’s player of the year last season after averaging 19 points per game. But the departures of Childress and Andrien White means the Demon Deacons have lost players who accounted for more than half of their made 3-pointers.

FAMILIARITY

One of the new transfers is guard Daivien Williamson, a junior guard who is immediately eligible after playing under Forbes at ETSU. That’s made him a valuable piece of the transition.

Mucius said Williamson has been “the guy who bridges that gap between us and Forbes, and us understanding how Forbes runs things.”

Wake Forest also added Virginia Tech transfer guard Isaiah Wilkins, who like Williamson is from Winston-Salem.

NEW APPROACHES

Forbes said he is “a big believer in practicing hard.” That led to an early preseason practice in which he threw the Demon Deacons out because he didn’t like their effort. They had to come back later that night and try again.

“He expects a lot of us,” Massoud said, “and we want that from him.”

But Forbes also said the coaches have players come by the office each weekday to check in, part of the effort to build communication and relationships.

“I like that interaction,” Forbes said. “I see their smiling face. … This is not the principal’s office.”

NEW RECRUITS

Wake Forest added two freshmen: 6-3 point guard Quadry Adams and 6-10 center Emmanuel Okpomo. Both are rated by 247sports as three-star prospects.

THE SCHEDULE

Wake Forest opens against Delaware State on Nov. 25, the first of three straight days of games in the Wake Forest Classic that also includes Alabama State and Longwood.

Teams are permitted to play 27 regular-season games, but Wake Forest has only 23 as of now as programs across the country have spent recent weeks trying to put together schedules.

The Demon Deacons don’t play in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge this year, meaning they currently don’t have a game for 2½ weeks until hosting fourth-ranked Virginia on Dec. 16 to open their 20-game ACC schedule.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

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